Thursday, September 29, 2011


de·co·rum   [dih-kawr-uhm, -kohr-][1]  noun
1. dignified propriety of behavior, speech, dress, etc.
2. the quality or state of being decorous;  orderliness; regularity.
3. Usually, decorums. an observance or requirement of polite society.
Decorum is a word.
One found in any dictionary. For those unlike myself who know only of modern web based sources like the one I have made reference to below, that’s the big dusty tomb found at your local library or next to the desks of outmoded academics. Citing another one of the great monoliths of the digital age Wikipedia will inform you that decorum is word established in meaning by Lord Chesterfield. He was a statesman and man of letters who, at roughly the same time our country was being founded, was searching for a translation of the French les moeurs (‘Manners are to little, Morals are to much.’).[2]  
Decorum is just that, a word. It seems in our society that at present it has no greater context. It is seldom found in the sweat pant wearing masses of college students stumbling to and from class or the ranks of working class people shuffling back and forth irrespective of the hue of their collar. Its absence has for most of my adult life been only a minor annoyance. In till a Thursday night Republican debate when a active duty Marine serving in Afghanistan was publicly booed by a audience in response to raising an important question about the fate of himself and his fellow marines.
            The candidate on stage, Rick Santorum, gave a stumbling response about returning to the policies of ‘don’t ask don’t tell.’ But it is not the booing of the audience that was most defining it was the silence. Columnist Mel Mintz, The Baltimore Sun, has nailed it on the head in stating, “Here is the critical point: Not one of those contenders chose to act like a president and defend that Marine's question. Nor did they truly answer his question.”[3] Let us turn to another dusty old book next to my desk, Roberts Rules of Order.
In debate a member must confine himself to the question before the assembly, and avoid personalities… It is not allowable to arraign the motives of a member, but the nature or consequences of a measure may be condemned in strong terms. It is not the man, but the measure, that is the subject of debate.[4]
It is just that, the debate being held concerns the Constitution of the United States and the laws and offices it support. Not this Marine. Not this man who risks his life to defend those laws and protect the very freedom of public debate it self. Even the previous incidents where audiences applauded increasing numbers of executions or the out cries to allow individuals with out health insurance to be denied life saving care had so insulted public decorum.
            This is only one example of the absence of decorum in politics. It is not reasonable to assume that politicians such as Santorum, and others like Sarah Palin who studied communications and journalism in college, do not understand the importance or need for decorum. Then why do they allow such behavior to continue? Why do they continue to use and endorse violent and hateful rhetoric directed not towards the political measures before them but towards individuals they oppose? Perhaps if we did in the House of Commons and placed them a swords length from their advisories, drew a long red line between them, and forced them to confront their opponents face to face they would hold more dear their shared humanity. Although even the statement I just made is in itself a form of reactionary hyperbole, and it too is worthy of scorn.
            Lets take for example the use of the word treason.
treason   [tree-zuhn]  noun
1. the offense of acting to overthrow one's government or to harm or kill its sovereign.
2. a violation of allegiance to one's sovereign or to one's state.
3. the betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery.
Rick Perry is quoted saying, “Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous — or treasonous in my opinion.” Is printing money an act of over throwing the government or the President? I doubt this; I even more seriously question the idea of putting a man to death for executing the laws of the United States of America. But treason is word not only found in political speeches, it is found on the signs held by and slogans shouted by thousands of Tea Party ‘Patriots.’ They call for any number of congressional leaders, or even the president, to be charged with the high crime of treason. More disturbing time and time again they use small children to carry those signs. Teaching grade school boys and girls to cry out for the execution of the men and women that you and I have elected. In fairness decorum is not only lacking here but also with the thousands of Union protestors like those who stormed the Wisconsin Capital building causing over $270 million in damages.[5]
            Let us return though to our Marine. He is just that ‘our’ Marine, he is as of right now fighting on some foreign field of battlefield. Their I feel we can be sure amongst the violence of war decorum is at most times meaningless. It should not be here. So let me take a strike at the issue at question, the one that those candidates where unable conjure the necessary composure to respond to from amongst their talking points. In Greece outside the city Thebes stands a stone lion. The lion is a monument to the 300 men of the lead division of the Thebes’ army, who in the Battle of Chaeronea 338 BC fought to the death defending their homeland. Every one of them fought and died with his male lover at his side. And when Philip the II of Macedonia and his son Alexander the Great ventured across that dissolute battlefield they found the bodies of those 300 men heaped upon one another. Philip was so moved by their courage that he erected that monument in the honor of those men who had but moments before been his enemy.
            If decorum is no longer held sacred, and treason is to be found in the actions of all men then I will keep my own words of outrage to myself. Instead I direct those in the audience and the candidates on that stage to words of King Philip II,
‘Perish any man who suspects that these men either did or suffered anything unseemly.’
Hopefully, this to in itself, will not be too much a breech of decorum…

[4] Art. 5 Sect. 36

Monday, September 26, 2011

Oil, Politics, and Planting Trees

Today, September 26th, Wangari Maathai died of cancer. Who she was may be a mystery to many Americans. What she did though may stand as the answer too many of the problems we face today. Another thing happened today, something that was most likely noticed by a much larger number of Americans, the price of gasoline fell to a national average $3.54. That is a drop of 12 cents in a matter of two weeks.[1] What caused the drop? Increased domestic production combined with new oil reserves in Canada have North America poised to out pace Saudi and even possibly Russian reserves. In the process the White house and the EPA have pushed back against the coal industry while simultaneously opening the door to whole new series of environmental questions which have come to the forefront with the approval of a new oil pipeline stretching 1,700 miles from Alberta to Texas.

What the president has done is made a painfully difficult choice in the face of a looming economic recession; One that comes with a certain amount of environmental blowback, but also a great number of economic opportunities. Many have protested the pipeline, including NASA scientists, creating the illusion that stopping its construction would some how limit America’s consumption of Oil. Once again individuals from both sides of the political divide are holding the government responsible for a problem created not by government but by individuals.
This is where Maathai comes in. Maathai was the first African women to win the Nobel peace prize. She was award the prize for the simple act of planting a tree. Well that and leading millions of impoverished women across Africa and the world in planting over 20 million trees.[2] The tree became for her an act of democratic defiance. In planting trees women provided them selves with a renewable resource that stopped the spread of desertification, provide clean water, firewood, and through Maathai’s foundation a form of much needed household income. Many said she was just planting trees. But when 20 million people plant a tree the world can find it self-turning in a whole new direction.
In my part of the world we have witnessed the rise of a new conservative movement, the tea party. A group of individuals who are calling for the dismantling of large portions of the federal government in order to reduce federal deficits and free Americans from the burden of federal taxation. They call for an end to government ‘handouts’ such as welfare and food stamps. According to the White House budget calculator[3] eliminating food stamps would save me $19.08, it would also lead to malnutrition and the reemergence of diseases mostly unseen since the 20’s. What’s the hidden cost to society? I would suspect much higher then the savings, and the same could be said of many other programs from the $11.66 I could save on housing assistance or the  $4.24 that I could keep if only we eliminated federal aid to students. Getting rid of that might even have saved you from having to read this blog.
What would Maathai have suggested in the face of such crippling problems such as the deficit and job loss her in America? Perhaps she would tell us to planet a tree. Then maybe drive a little less. Buy a smaller car. Volunteer. What ever she might recommend she would tell us to act as individuals. Not blame is a mostly unobtrusive government for problems that are caused by the overconsumption of individuals.
Some how the tea party, conservative pundits, network news hosts, and many a blogger have drawn a mysterious link between government spending an the end of the world. In the view presented to most Americans raising government debt and a growing federal government are leading the world to some apocalyptic end. They come to this conclusion completely outside the context of History. Take for example Joshua S. Goldstein’s article on[4] At the beginning of 1900’s through WWI and II we say tens of millions die in wars that destroyed whole continents. Then with the cold war regional conflicts and the impending fear of atomic Armageddon brought about the deaths of millions. And:
Now, in the early twenty-first century, the worst wars, such as those in Iraq and Sudan, kill hundreds of thousands. We fear terrorist attacks that could destroy a city, but not life on the planet. The fatalities still represent a large number and the impacts of wars are still catastrophic for those caught in them, but overall, war has diminished dramatically.
This is the actual trend; less people are dying, in fewer wars. But because of whatever number of factors you wish to list, from the 24-hour news cycle to the hyperbole of right or left wing political factions, most people live in a constant state of fear. Maathai would tell them to take a deep breath and go plant a tree. I would tell them to remember Eisenhower.
            Eisenhower was the great Republican president who warned us about the growth of the Military-Industrial complex. The tea party and its congressional representatives who wish to cut all forms of government spending short of defense would do well to remember his words…
The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.
It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.
It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement.
We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.
We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.
This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.
This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. These plain and cruel truths define the peril and point the hope that came with this spring of 1953.
What comes with the fall of 2011? No matter what jobs bill congress passes. No matter how large the deficit becomes. No matter how scared the average American may be. Change will continue to sweep the Middle East. Companies will continue to mine coal and refine oil. Corporation will hire more or less workers. And politicians will continue to do whatever it is they do. But individuals like you and I will be faced with a choice. The same one Wangari Maathai was faced with. Whether to stay in our homes entrenched in our own ethnic and ideological fears of what lies outside, or step out into the world and plant a tree.
Maybe we won’t all plant trees. Maybe some of us will just go to work or keep searching for that new job. Maybe you’ll volunteer. Maybe you’ll eat junk food and watch TV. Maybe you’ll create the next great must have Christmas gift. Play music or get drunk. Whatever it is you do, from voting to buying a new car, it will have greater effect on the world then all the screaming and chest beating the tea party or any political movement could ever have. And for that looming deficit that’s going to crush the average American, last year it only cost me $39.22. So I say lets do as Eisenhower and build a few new roads. Trade in a couple old guns in for a few new schools. And turn away from the politics of finger pointing and towards the actions of individuals. Let’s go plant a tree with Maathai. And maybe we’ll all get a Nobel Prize like hers and the President’s


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Coffee Shop

Cross from me today in the coffee shop was an Iraq vet. About my age, I over heard him recount his journey over seas to a passing barista. Victory in Iraq... a journey home... an uncertain future. A small part of me envied him, the journey he took, the years he served, coincided with the years I spent away at college fumbling through books and drinking away long weekends. Yet I wonder if this is an emotion we both shared. He was studying preparing for clearly his own college journey. He wanted a degree like I had, and I wanted the sense of accomplishment and honor he carried home with him. But in the end we both faced the same uncertain future. After four years in college I was left contemplating military service as an escape from a dismal future in the work force. And after some similar number of years in the army he was turning to college in what was most likely the same fashion.
            I wonder if he was confronting much the same world I was. Everyday I went to work and I was confronted by an endless parade of conservatives and tea party members. An older generation constantly reminding me of how little I knew about the way the world ‘really’ worked. How the country was being torn apart by a ballooning federal government and its wasteful ‘spending’. Spending which for my grandfather’s generation had guaranteed service men good jobs and academics like my self a place in the civil services or academic realms. Spending which now had to be traded in for tax cuts and new Promised Land without the constraints of government regulation and bureaucratic red tape. A new republic that just simply didn’t need men like my self, and may or may not have for need men like him.
            I’m left like so many unsure of how to feel about my generation. The wars we’ve fought do not provide us with the sense of accomplishment that WWII did for the baby boomers now grabbing at the reigns of political power. On the other hand neither the war in Afghanistan or Iraq have been able to spark the rage or anger that fueled the Woodstock generation which has all but passed out of the politics of today. The EPA and all of the other great achievements of that generation are slowly being turned back. Even the great social safety net founded by the Eisenhower generation is now under attack. Our generation is left floundering for some place, some purpose, some great achievement or purpose to proclaim for our generation.
Yet at the same time our own youthful president, a reflection in him self of a long passed Camelot, has been rejected by the rest of the republic and twisted into an escape goat for a failed political system. Our music branded as so much noise and racket. Our books as nothing more then dime novels filled with idealistic conjecture. Our cars are cheap imports. Our green business ventures tech companies as nothing more then Ponzi schemes. At the same time it’s our president who fights to maintain social security. It’s our music the stands for the silenced masses in the face of censorship and social constraint. It’s our novels and films that try to provide meaning and purpose to future generations. It’s our cars that provide a future at least a little less dependent of foreign oil. It is our green ventures that provide sustainable energy. And companies like Apple that grow and create jobs when the rest of the economic world shutters.
A large portion of our generation has fought and won much of two wars we did not desire to be apart of and returned mostly intact. Another part graduated from college at time when the costs of education where reaching all new heights. Now all of us are left wondering what we worked for? In a world where previous generations dismiss our educations as meaningless in the face of their accumulated ‘wisdom’, and at the same time refuse to put to work a generation of returning vets, where are we left to turn? Not to Washington. Not to some third party. Not to any of the preconceived wisdom of some bygone generation of seniors. We have to find something else. We are left to coble together a new vision for the future. One I think we will find on the discarded pages of rap lyrics. In the countless folded and worn pages of postmodern novels and dyeing newspapers accumulated in coffee shops and libraries. In blogs and social network posts. We will find it in the countless millions all across the world raising up, responding to new forms of communications, and creating their own destines.
I have no idea what this future looks like. I know only this, it cannot be decided by cable news shows or syndicated pundits who only serve their own endless quest for ratings and profits. It most be decided by the collective consciousness of a generation of young men and women who have journeyed half way around the world whether through travel or studies. Those who have found themselves sitting in coffee shops with freshly printed degrees at home or entering college classrooms or new careers after years of public service. Hopefully I may be able to at least observe, even perhaps spark in some small way a revolution in thought. Maybe we can still turn a generation away from rhetoric and towards real thinking creative growth. Maybe we can find a purpose for a discarded academic like my self and the former marine who sat across from me. Maybe we still have a purpose if only the more abstract one of finding a purpose.
Or maybe I’ll join the army, and he’ll get a degree and the world will just keep on turning. I think I’d rather just go listen to some old vinyl and pen another blog post or story no one will ever read. Cheers.

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